Places of shattered dreams

2009-07-02 00:00

I ENJOY topics, discussions and debates about race and race relations, especially in South Africa. As uncomfortable as many people find this subject, I find it refreshing and liberating. I was very pleased when this publication invited people to write about race and their experiences thereof.

In South Africa, you cannot talk about race without talking about apartheid as institutionalised racism that meant to denigrate a certain section of the societ­y. Recently, I had an interesting discussion with music producer and SABC group chief for strategy and risk management, Sipho Sithole. One of the things that he said to me was: “I hate townships. The people who I left standing at the corner many years ago, are still standing there even today.”

I totally agree with Sithole. In KwaMashu where I grew up, the people who I left standing at the corner of Mangeni Road, more than a decade ago, if they are not dead or imprisoned, are literally standing at the same corner. Even in Umlazi where my parents now reside, it is the same heartbreaking experience. Every time I go home, I need to put aside some coins to give to middle-aged men, who either want to buy a loose cigarette, some dodgy concoction or a bottle of beer. Townships are the same everywhere. Whether it is a celebrated township like Soweto or a not-so-popular township like Mpophomeni, the effects on the people who reside in them is the same.

There is something very depressing about townships — places of shattered dreams, broken promises, chaos and danger, and stolen lives. What makes it even more depressing and sometimes very annoying is that this is not by default, but by design. Our townships were designed to serve as a cage — a hopeless place, where we would always be remin­ded that we are second-class citizens.

I am not ashamed to say that I am from KwaMashu or from Umlazi, but to say I am proud of coming from there would be to stretch the truth quite a bit. It would not be logical for me to be proud of a place that was design­ed to dehumanise me and ensure that I remain in per­petual mediocrity.

There is not a single good story to tell about townships. Even those who like to romanticise and attempt to tell good stories about townships end up telling stories of taverns, shebeen queens, booze, beautiful girls and fancy clothes. That should tell you something about these places we called home. In every township, as you enter, you will be greeted by humungous billboards glorifying and advertising alcohol, something that is a rare sight in places like Hilton, Umhlanga or Sandton.

We need an emergency exit from these parasitic places we fondly and affectionately refer to as Ekasi. As the renowned writer Eric Miyena bluntly puts it: “Get the hell out of Soweto.” I dare say, if you can, get the hell out of these places, especially for the sake of your children.

I can already anticipate a question. Why are there so many successful people who came from the townships if they are that abominable? The answer to that is simple. That there are many successful black people who came through Bantu Education does not make Bantu Education any less abhorren­t.

This has everything to do with race and apartheid. That it is only one particular race group that is found in these places called townships is self-explanatory. This is the reason why I get livid if any person talks about affirmative action as reverse racism that has long passed its sell-by date. Such statements are an irritating deni­al of the vast effects of apartheid and racism on black people of this country.

Whether born in 1951 or 2001, regardless of age or era, all black people in South Africa are the victims of apartheid and racism, whether they acknowledge it or not.

• Sihle Mlotshwa is an independent social commentator.

• Do you agree with this view of townships? Or do you have another apartheid story to tell? Send your submissions to features@witness.co.za

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